Travelers can relax in motion
Since ancient times, humans have moved from one location to another as a matter of necessity. This summer, regional venues will offer transportation for pleasure, at the speed of draft horses, water, or railroad tracks.
Horse and carriage
Dave Larabee, owner of Specialty Carriage and Wagon Rides, can often be found at Williamstown's Sweet Brook Farm giving wagon rides (and sleigh rides in the winter) in a variety of vehicles, pulled by his beloved Belgian draft horses, Bob and Ben.
"These horses are the big boys, very popular with families and children, and a wagon ride wouldn't be the same without them," Larabee said. "Sweet Brook is an alpaca and maple syrup farm. In the warmer weather, there's a real pleasant and relaxed pace to riding along, whether in its open fields, or other places we're asked to bring the horses."
Larabee, who learned to drive horse-drawn wagons at age 4, has been riding at Sweet Brook for more than a dozen years. He said wagon or hay rides on its 90 acres take about an hour and carry up to 10 passengers. Visitors can ride in a 16-passenger open wagon or a 12-person covered wagon for wet weather.
"Summer is a bit of a slower time when we tend to take the horses to other venues to provide rides at events," Larabee said. "But we can always arrange farm rides as long as people call ahead to arrange it for weekends. If someone says they want to be at Sweet Brook for a ride, the boys and I can be there."
Canoes in the Housatonic
For more than a decade, Berkshire Canoe Tours in Lenox has offered rides on the Housatonic River. Owner Hilary Bashara grew up in the Berkshires and has taught boating sailing and canoeing.
"Some people enjoy meandering, relaxing and sitting back enjoying the birds, while others may be out for the exercise and to race their fellow paddlers," Beshara said. "Each tour is unique. Tours are usually on the Housatonic River, where you can see more wildlife, though put-in and take-out points vary on the requests of the guests. We have also done lakes."
Tours take up to two hours and depend on the guests, their interests and the speed at which they paddle. Beshara said when she has more than two crafts on the water at once, she has trailing canoes to keep the group together and answer questions.
"Aside from the plant life, there is an abundance of animal life," Beshara said. "Most days every sizable fallen tree trunk has turtles and frogs sunning themselves. Beavers and muskrats abound and depending on how quiet the tour is, we can frequently get pretty close before the beavers slap their tails or muskrats dive under."
There are also many birds, Beshara said, from swamp sparrows to red-wing blackbirds.
"We will see Great Blue Herons, hawks and occasionally, a bald eagle," she said. "Deer, bear and other animals will come to the water's edge in the early evening. I have also seen a bobcat catch a duck alongside the river -- a truly lovely experience."
To the railway
At the 1905 estate of Robert Todd Lincoln, son of Abraham Lincoln, guests can step into a 1903 Pullman Palace rail car. The car now stands as an exhibit on the 412-acre grounds of Hildene, in Manchester, Vt., home to three generations of the president's descendants. Standing inside, visitors can grasp the stately side of late Gilded Age rail travel, as the vehicle carried several presidents on journeys along the East Coast.
Paula Maynard, Hildene's press director, said the car, named ‘Sunbeam,' links the presidential son with his famous father. The renovated vehicle came off the line during Robert Lincoln's tenure as Pullman's president, and played a key role in American social history.
"The Pullman Company at the turn of the 20th century was the largest employer of African-Americans, offering slaves freed by the Emancipation and 13th amendment, jobs as porters," Maynard said. "In spite of the exploitative environment, these men were able to better their lives and those of their families, helping to give rise to America's black middle class."
To see a historic passenger train in motion, head south to Lenox to visit the restored, historic New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad Station where Gilded Age "cottagers" once stood on the platform on their way to their summer homes in the Berkshires. Modern travelers can tour the rail yard and -- on select Saturdays -- learn to drive the train. After hands-on instruction in operating a 120-ton locomotive, students can then operate it in the rail yard.
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.